"Love thy neighbour as thyself" is a Christian (and Jewish) commandment that seems to have slipped off the tablet in recent years, (either that or there is a lot of self hate in the world). "Love for all, hatred for none" is the mantra for the Ahmadi Muslim sect that seems to be alive and well. How so? I hear you ask, aren't Muslims all terrorists threatening the western way of life?
I'm a curious person by nature and anything I don't understand (or know much about) I do my best to investigate to enable me to make up my own mind about what it all means. We are living in troubled times with war, refugees, Brexit, inequality and a total mistrust of politicians. It was this curiosity that resulted in me spending a day in Hampshire at an event called Jalsa with 38,000 muslims from 90 countries.
A flag for each country with staunch flag bearers and a water feature promising to take the Ahmadiyya message to all corners of the world, was the central feature of the temporary village that was erected on this Hampshire farm for the three day religious festival. The scale of this village is mind boggling. (More on this later.)
Among the many exhibitions that I visited was one of the artefacts and arts of the ancient world. A replica of the shroud of Turin with both owner of the shroud Pam Moon, and the world's leading expert on the shroud, Barry Schwortze, both present and more than happy to discuss everything that is known about the shroud (and you thought this was only in Christian texts). Other items included an ancient manuscript, ceramics, fabrics, and metalware. Many pieces were from a private collection and are hundreds of years old. It was fascinating to learn from looking at a 12th century book of the Quran that the text in black (in the centre) is the teachings of Islam, but the writing in red around the edges of the pages are the "thoughts" of scholars in later years. Some of these "thoughts" have subsequently been referred to as authoritative Islamic texts.
The temporary village had its own TV and radio station, as well as dedicated areas for all the international media. The Ahmadiyya women ran their own media network, which meant every job and function was carried out by women. How does that suppressed muslim women mantra go again? Well, however it goes it was all blown out of the water here. They were a well oiled and skilled team. Not only did they work without a man in sight (other than those they were interviewing) but they also had their kids wander in and out as if this is a normal part of life.
What happened to the hippies of the 60's and 70's who believed in these messages? Remember John and Yoko? Why does this same generation now mistrust anyone who is different? What happened to change all of this for the worse? I would like to hear what others think about this (yes you dear readers).
Once upon a time, a million years ago, I ran a business in the food industry, so I'm always interested in the behind the scenes work, (I promised you a few sentences ago we would look at the scale of things in this temporary village). Now just start thinking about feeding 38,000 people three times a day. At my request I was transported to the kitchens where I witnessed the manufacture of 100,000 breads made in one day! Not a cross word spoken, everyone working together ... probably a place that Gordon Ramsay would benefit from visiting!
However let's not forget the primary purpose of the three days. It is a religious event where the head of the organisation Mirza Masroor Ahmad is sending out a message to the devotees.
Devotees are here to make a pledge to their principals and leader. They were told that "their duty is to give back to the country they live in and to integrate with their neighbours." The principles of the community is to built relationships, to give back, and to be involved in the community whatever the religious differences.
Whatever your beliefs, I cannot disagree with the fundamental message of the Ahmadi of "Love for all, and hatred for none."